Before I ever set up lights for this shoot, I pulled on my knowledge and love of classic B&W films for styling ideas. The model and I had a lot of exchanges about appropriate wardrobe, hair, and make-up, and she came well-prepared. I flipped through a wonderful book of Edward Steichen's photography for ideas on lighting, poses, and fashion, though his fashion work pre-dates the 1940s look we were trying to achieve. Can't go wrong studying Steichen as far as I'm concerned, though.
I also created a storyboard of poses and any changes in lighting I wanted to try. I do this because once I begin a shoot, I get so into the work and excited about what I see on my LCD screen, any planning or forethought I might have had goes right out of my head. A storyboard keeps me grounded and provides ideas on direction in case I or the model get stuck in a posing idea rut.
Okay, enough planning. The lighting set-up was one Alien Bees B400 with barndoors. Yep, that's it. For variation, I would add a 30º grid, move the light up or down, move the barndoors to grow or shrink the background spill, or place a tall tungsten lamp opposite for some fill. Since these were to be B&W shots, I didn't bother gelling for the mixed light.
A lot of my work is done after the shoot. I'm a processing addict. Yes, sometimes it's a problem. So I thought I would share this problem with others so I don't feel so alone in the world as I frantically huddle over my Mac laptop futzing with Photoshop.
To get the polished, pristine look of the 40s, I was a bit extra anal about every detail. Take this shot for example. Here's the image I started with straight out of the camera.
I love this shot as is, truth be told. The model's pose and expression are wonderful, I managed not to chop off her elbow, and I'm a bit in love with my yellow walls. However, I knew for the classics 40s look, a straight B&W conversion wasn't quite going to cut it.
My first step was to clone out or heal any distractions, i.e., anything that makes my eye move away from the model's awesome expression too quickly. In this case, I cleaned up the skin a bit and parts of her blouse that were rumpled and ruining the arched line of her back, as well as some stray bits of hair. I used the spot heal brush and clone tool mainly, relying on the liquify filter to fix the bumps in her shirt.
My next step was very slight skin smoothing, using Scott Kelby's technique. This helped darken her raised arm slightly and smooth the shadows on her face just enough for my taste.
Next I brightened the eyes, again using Scott Kelby's technique. This involves creating a curves adjustment layer and setting its blending mode to screen. I usually invert the mask and paint the eyes back in with a white brush, then lower the layer's opacity to 50% as a starting point and jiggle it from there until I'm happy that the eyes pop enough without making the person look radioactive.
I noticed the catchlight in her forward eye wasn't visible when zoomed out, which bugged me a bit, so I dabbed a spot of white paint on the original catchlight to make it pop a little more.
My standard beauty treatment done, I walked away for a bit and came back to the image. I found her shirt and lit arm still pulling some attention away from her face, so I burned them in a little. I also darkened her back eyebrow a little to balance it better with the forward one.
Some of these changes are very subtle. If you have tabbed browsing, I highly recommend opening the steps in different tabs and flipping back and forth between them quickly to see the changes better.
Content with the image in color, I finally converted it to B&W using the Totally Rad Awesome BW action as well as the Antique Tone action. While processing the first image from this set, I played around with many different BW actions and manual conversions until I found one I liked, then used the same formula with small tweaks for the rest of the set so the photos would look cohesive when viewed together.
And my final step was a bit of sharpening. The technique I use most often now is based on Manny Librodo's technique. I found instructions for the type of sharpening he applies floating around in the interwebs and created my own action from them.
Whew! That's it. Then we completely switched gears for some color "broken doll" shots.
More on that part of the shoot later. ^_^